The Story of a Saw

I’ve been absent from this blog for some time now. When I started the blog, I didn’t think writing a bit each week would be so hard. But as it turns out, I find the process difficult because it takes me away from exactly what I’m supposed to be blogging about. Namely: my life as a fiction writer. I started the blog as a way to “report” to the New Hampshire community after being awarded the New Hampshire Individual Artist Fellowship, and figured I come every week and update my massive readership on the novel I’ve been working on and which helped me secure the fellowship. A little jot here, another there, voila, I’m an official blogger. The problem is, I ran out of things to say about writing fiction that didn’t somehow detract from my ability to write fiction. During the semester, my writing life is pretty diminished. Between work, grading, home renovations, family, and the daily life of chores, when I sat down to write, I needed to focus on my manuscript. Hearing about that slog gets boring pretty quick. It goes like this: I worked on my book again today. I spent several hours fixing my crappy sentences and then had to overhaul an entire page for continuity problems. Then, I realized I’d accidently called the same character by two names. The work was tough, but in the end, I made the story stronger. It wasn’t exactly fun, it was rewarding in a strange sort of way. Reading that type of description of the writing life would be less than enlightening. Now that school is over, I hope to say more, report more, and shed more light on why I do what I do. But first, this:


My Miller's Falls reciprocating saw, broken beyond repair.

Yes, that is a reciprocating saw, more commonly referred to as a “saw’s all,” which is like calling all petroleum jelly “vaseline.” And yes that saw is flat out busted. In many ways, this saw has been a bigger part of my life than writing. It’s sad to say, but true, especially over the last few years as we’ve renovated our old farmhouse. Last week, I was busy cutting out some old, rotted supports from the last unrenovated section of the house and the saw got stuck somehow in a beam that didn’t look as though it ought to be that tough. A reciprocating saw works like a regular handsaw, back and forth rather than spinning like a skill saw, except that it is driven by a powerful mini-motor. The saw got stuck, as it has hundreds of times, and I applied pressure and the blade jammed more and the saw wrenched around in my hands something fierce. The next thing I knew, I was holding the back end of the saw, live wires exposed, and the body of the saw was still lodged firmly in the house. It seems that our home was fighting back. I unplugged the saw and pried the metal casing away from the source of its trouble. The blade had got so hot that it fuzed with a piece of wood and was quite hard to dislodge. 

So what? It’s just a saw right? Who cares? Isn’t this a blog about writing? Not today. Today, it is a story, or perhaps an obituary. I bought that saw in 1993 from Peavey Hardware, in Portsmouth New Hampshire–a hardware store for two hundred years. They had all sorts of hidden alcoves and whole floors of storage. They were small town, personal. They wrote all receipts by hand. They had a shelf next to the cash register they kept stocked with tools pulled from some deep dark corner. I was working at the Music Hall in Portsmouth back then (I still called myself a writer, but I never wrote anything) and we were putting a new roof vent on the stagehouse. The guy with the “saw’s all” didn’t show up and we needed one. I wasn’t making much money then, but I decided to bite the bullet and go to Peaveys, where I bought this saw. Miller’s Falls was a good brand, but they’d been out of business for years. I paid $149.00 for the saw and it very quickly became my favorite tool. I sound a bit sentimental about it, true enough, but why not? It was good quality, American made, reliable, bought from a store that no longer exists (and a type of store that no longer exists, either) and served me well. I used that saw like no other tool. I certainly got my money’s worth. 

About five years ago, we bought this old wreck of a farmhouse and set to work fixing it. Not a day went by that I didn’t use that saw for something. So, when I felt it come apart in my hands, it was like losing an old friend. So, that’s what this writer does when he’s not writing. He’s sawing stuff. That’s the real life of this writer. I used to have this glamorous idea of the writer’s life. I’d have a great desk. I’d sit there with a cup of coffee and marvel at how wonderful my writing life was and how easy the words flowed and how rewarding my work was and how important. The truth of the matter is far more mundane and much more real than that fantasy. I’m a father, a husband, a teacher. I struggle with making writing a centerpiece of my life, but I keep trying. It’s taken me years longer to find my writing self than I ever would have thought. I’ll be forty three this summer and have yet to publish anything beyond some short stories. I’ve written nothing, absolutely nothing as powerful as I believe I will, and yet I keep trying.

Over the past few years, I’ve been working on this manuscript and feel that I’m coming to an endpoint. It is good, I think. And yet the thing that mattered the most to me on this day was putting a picture of a saw on a webpage. It’s one of those concrete details that I tell my students they need so desperately in their fiction, a link to a character’s life. My broken Miller’s Falls reciprocating saw says more about me than most of my other possessions. I’m going to secure the saw in it’s original metal box and hang it near my desk next to my dear friend Jon Travis’s awesome painting of Robert Mitchum. Mitchum and Miller, inspiring this writer, drawing him back to the written work.